Kristin Meurrens estimates she has undergone more than 100 computed tomography (CT) scans.
The 38-year-old's medical problems began when she was 16 and was enduring painful periods and ovarian cysts. The issues continued as she experienced three ectopic pregnancies. She was misdiagnosed with interstitial cystitis (IC) - a painful bladder condition for which there is no cure. She underwent several procedures in hopes of relief from her IC pain, including cystoscopies and Botox injections into her bladder wall, but nothing helped. Eventually, she grew so discouraged that she confined herself to her room and was unable to take care of her family. "The doctors at one hospital told me I had exceeded their capabilities, and they could no longer care for me," she says. "I just sort of gave up."
Then, a young emergency room doctor at a local hospital theorized that Kristin might be suffering from loin pain hematuria syndrome (LPHS), a rare disorder that results in debilitating flank pain and blood in the urine. She began researching it online and came upon a Facebook group that mentioned Hans Sollinger, MD, transplant surgeon at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. Transplant surgeons at UW Health, were performing a groundbreaking kidney autotransplant that had miraculously cured others with LPHS. Kristin, who lives in Prince Frederick, Maryland, traveled to Wisconsin for a medical evaluation.
At UW Health, Kristin underwent a lidocaine test, which Dr. Sollinger had developed three years prior. During the test, a urologist injected a pain relief medication into her ureter. Over the next day, she was free from pain, which confirmed for doctors at UW Health that her pain was originating in her ureter and she had been suffering from LPHS. "That was by far one of the best days of my life," she says. "For the first time in many, many years, I felt no pain and I finally had answers. Suddenly, my hope had been restored."
Kristin also learned something very important that doctors had overlooked during the past two decades: Her left renal vein was compressed between her aorta and vertebral column, a condition known as posterior nutcracker syndrome. The compression was linked to all of Kristin's health problems, including the LPHS which had made it difficult for her to do just about anything.
A month after the lidocaine test, transplant surgeons performed a kidney autotransplant on Kristin. They removed her left kidney and placed it in her right pelvic area. "It's all like a jigsaw puzzle," says Kristin. "When you have compression of your left renal vein, it will affect your body from the bottom up. In my case, the blood started to pool and engorge all the veins in my pelvic area, including my ureter vein."
The procedure worked, and Kristin's pain was gone. For her, it was miraculous because she had spent so many years seeking help for her debilitating pain. "Doctors labeled me a drug-seeker," she says. "Every time I had a flare-up, they sent me to a CT scan. That was their way of determining whether I was going to receive pain medication that day."
They prescribed countless medications for Kristin's supposed interstitial cystitis, including drugs that made her hair fall out and turned the whites of her eyes yellow. As she became sicker and sicker, one doctor offered to remove her bladder in the hopes that that would take away her pain. She elected not to take this extreme step - and now she's glad she did.
"The kidney autotransplant changed everything for me - my blood pressure, the rhythm of my heart," she says. "It gave me my life back. It gave my family their mom, wife, daughter and sister back. I work full time now, and I have not taken any pain medications in more than a year. The UW Health surgeons restored hope in me again."